Submitted by Paul Rotaru, Head of Math Department
Note: The information in this profile represents SY2011-12 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Name STAR Prep Academy
Type Independent or Private School: Nonsectarian
Locale Suburban
Headquarters Culver City, California
First year of operation SY2003-04
Grades served 6-12
Enrollment 40
Annual tuition $25,000
Average expense per pupil

Blended-learning program

Name N/A
Focus Gifted and talented
Year launched SY2008-09
Enrollment 40
Blended grades 6-12
Blended subjects Math
Content ALEKS, WebAssign, MakingMath
SIS ALEKS, WebAssign
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook None
Independent assessment  None
Professional development

Program model

Program model: Flex

Model description
With their face-to-face teacher acting as a coach, students work through a self-paced, online math program in a traditional classroom.

Program background

History and context
The STAR Prep Academy (STAR Prep) is a private middle and high school for students who seek an individualized approach to learning, based on their desired areas of specialization. Founded in Culver City, California in 2003, the school serves 40 students in grades 6-12. Its practical, interactive, and self-motivated structure nurtures analytical thinking, encourages exploration and discovery, and prepares students for college, career, and life-long success. STAR Prep is located within the internationally award-winning STAR ECO Station, an environmental science museum and exotic wildlife rescue center. STAR Prep students are exposed to a wide range of hands-on opportunities not afforded any other students in the Los Angeles area: environmental science classes, animal husbandry, international retreats, an exciting array of foreign language courses and more.

In 2008, Paul Rotaru, a math teacher at STAR Prep noticed that his students were missing the same problems over and over again on their homework and were exhibiting negative attitudes toward math. Rotaru created a flex model in his classroom where students could work at their own pace via online courses and he could work as coach with the aid of computerized reports to help students avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. This model has vastly improved both student attitude and student performance.

Blended model 
In math classes, students are provided with laptops with access only to math programs and strictly monitored. Each student has either an ALEKS account (lower grades) or access to webAssign and/or MakingMath (higher grades). Depending on their schedule, students are enrolled in one of the eight math periods independent of grade level. During the 50-minute class period, very little time is spent on lectures, and the teacher acts as coach and tutor. All students are at different levels and receive instruction accordingly. When students have questions about their online work, they raise their hand to receive individualized help. The teacher’s computer screen shows all the students’ working computer screens. When asked a question that is applicable to more than one student, the teacher can project images from his computer and explain the solution. Reading and watching video tutorials are assigned for homework, and problem solving using online programs fills all class time. Students work at their own pace. The teacher is aware, in real time, of which students are struggling with particular concepts. Students are responsible for their own work and take ownership of their education.

This model works at STAR Prep due to the fact that one math instructor can teach all math levels. The teacher also encourages advanced math students to help the younger ones.

Notable results
The most notable result of implementing this blended model thus far has been an improvement in students’ attitudes toward learning math. Students are aware of the benefits of the blended-learning model and enjoy this individualized model.

Additionally, standardized test scores have improved year to year;  some STAR Prep students have shown up to a 300 percent increase in one year. Strong students are progressing rapidly and some have mastered two or even three math courses in one year. There has been some resistance from parents, teachers, and students as this blended model has evolved, but the results are encouraging.

On the horizon
STAR Prep plans to implement more technology resources across subject departments, and future blended-learning programs are possible, using the school’s math program as a model.


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